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The Evolution of Supreme Court Justices' Ideologies

Where does Merrick Garland fit in?
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President Barack Obama has nominated federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland as the United States' 113th Supreme Court justice. The nomination challenges Republican senators to stay steadfast in their refusal to consider a nomination in an election year; Garland is a centrist who many of those senators already voted to confirm for his current job on the influential District of Columbia appeals court, which has produced many Supreme Court justices.

If confirmed, legal observers expect Garland to line up with the more liberal members of the Supreme Court, though, as the Associated Press points out, he's known as a centrist when it comes to issues of criminal defense and national security.

Still, he should be more reliably progressive than Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has gained a reputation in Washington as something of a heterodox conservative.

This graphic shows how the current justices' ideologies have skewed over time:

Still, some wonder if Garland's nomination is more of a lost opportunity than it is political cunning. As the New Republic's Brian Beutler writes:

There was a profound and straightforward political logic for Obama to nominate a judge like Leondra Kruger, who would've become the first black female justice in U.S. history, or Jane Kelly, who's a female former public defender and a resident of Iowa—home of embattled senator and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley.

Nominating anyone along those lines would have fulfilled a promise to make the court more representative of the nation and drawn attention to the Republican Party's desperate, power-mad commitment to keeping the Court the same, and their blindness to the merits of having a more diverse court—even if it means handing the nomination power to Donald Trump.

A nominee like Garland, by contrast, cedes all of these advantages to the Republican Party. It allows them to say, in effect, "See, this has nothing to do with race, or gender, or even ideology. We just want the next president to pick Scalia's successor."

And going by Mitch McConnell's Twitter feed, it seems the Republicans will be doing just that.